Although some words, standing alone, carry more weight than others, the context in which they are used must also be considered.   In the case of Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper who has now been excused from team activities to undergo counseling, it isn’t just that he uttered the infamous “N” word, its really about how and when he used it, and why.

Riley Cooper

Riley Cooper

Some will get caught up in the word itself, which by today’s standards should never, ever be uttered by any non-African American, and especially never be used by anyone who is white.  Those are the rules.

But rules notwithstanding, the contradictory fact is that some of the sting has been taken out of the N-Word these days because of the wide use of its variant that ends with an “a”.  It is uttered proudly as a greeting by many African Americans, and used to spice up years and years of Hip Hop and Rap song lyrics, which ironically are enjoyed and sung along word for word, eagerly and without incident, by millions of non-black music consumers.

But the complicated N-Word rules demand that once a non-black person isn’t singing along and uses the more vile historically onerous N-Word that ends in “er”, a line has definitely been crossed.  Worse yet is when the word is used to intimidate and de-humanize, which is Riley Cooper’s real sin, and why, despite his profuse apologies, he has been fined, forced into counseling and is being ostracized by many of his teammates.

While his apology suggests that this was a rare and perhaps first-ever use, we must still ask: Why did Cooper feel the need to racially threaten and demean the African American security guard at the concert he attended? What was he thinking?  What is in his heart?   Hopefully counseling will provide Cooper with much needed answers and perhaps save a career that may now be in doubt.

One also hopes though that while Cooper contemplates his actions and his words, all of us, of whatever color and race re-examine the use of the N-word which has been de-stigmatized by our casualness, callousness and perhaps hatred, sadly disregarding the millions whose lives have been damaged and sometimes taken away because of the cruelty this ugly word has tragically instigated.

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  1. Skip says:

    Sorry David, even though you stated the n-word rules as well as anyone, we as African Americans have to accept our own responsibility for the continued prevalence of this word being used as an expression of hate.

    You say “It is uttered proudly as a greeting by many African Americans, and used to spice up years and years of Hip Hop and Rap song lyrics…” But if we are really being honest, we have to acknowledge that African Americans often use the n-word with each other in a manner that is derogatory, disrespectful, demeaning or dismissive, just listen to those same Hip Hop and Rap lyrics or ride the bus with some young teenagers.

    And unfortunately, the n-word is too often used among African Americans to express anger, hate or even murderous intention towards each other. Our use of the n-word is more a reflection of self hate than pride. We can express righteous outrage about Riley Cooper, but we can’t totally separate his use of the n-word from our own perpetuation of the worst that this word represents.